Update: Los Angeles police Det. Dennis Kilcoyne told the Weekly Thursday that this woman's story, which we first reported Jan. 4, does not point to any connections to the Grim Sleeper case.
Among the oddities ascribed to the South L.A. serial murderer known as the Grim Sleeper is a time line that includes a sleeper's gap — from 1988 to 2002 — when no victims have been found.
Now a woman has stepped forward with a claim that could twist the Sleeper saga's time line once more: Becky Johnson, a 46-year-old cab driver from Tallahassee, Florida alleged to the Weekly on Monday that Grim Reaper suspect Lonnie Franklin Jr. kidnapped and raped her when she was a runaway teen in Hollywood in 1979.
Not only that, but Johnson says the man indicated to her that she wasn't his first victim.
Johnson's claim would have the suspect operating, at least as an alleged rapist, almost six years before the first murder victim was tied to the Grim Sleeper case through ammo from a .25 caliber handgun (DNA would later make further connections as well, police say).
Her story has plenty of gaps and hazy reflections — the result, Johnson says, of trauma. But there are no inconsistencies we could fathom.
LAPD Det. Dennis Kilcoyne, who has led the Grim Sleeper investigation for the last four years or so, told the Weekly he was just made aware of her claim and that it will be taken seriously, although it might not change the case because alleged sex assaults and kidnapping in 1979 would be outside the statute of limitations. (Murder isn't).
In the wake of the department's release of photos apparently taken by Franklin of dozens of women, some in states of undress, new tips have come in, and the investigation of the suspect's goings on has stretched into the early 1980s, Kilcoyne said. Focusing on a claim from 1979 wouldn't be that much of a stretch.
“We've got some in the earlier '80s we're investigating that may have had a run in with him,” he said. “It all revolves around sex. We'll reach out to her.”
Johnson says she ran into her attacker at a clothing store in Hollywood in the late summer or early fall of 1979. She was a 15-year-old runaway staying with two brothers on vacation in a nearby motel.
She said she survived by shoplifting, and that the suspect eyed her as she stole merchandise. He was nice, and she followed him out of the store.
“There was nothing about him that was repulsive until he got you,” she said. “And then it was terrifying.”
At one point she says she tried to get away by attempting to jump into a car stopped at a red light. The driver hit the gas. She says the man eventually cornered her in an alley, showed her a hidden cache of guns wrapped up in a “bundle,” and warned her that if she tried to get away he would find her because he was connected with the mob.
The suspect took her nearby to “a room” — she's not sure if was an apartment or a motel — and allegedly repeatedly raped for for what she believes was at least two days. At times, she claimed, he would turn violent, slapping her hard with an open hand.
One time he allegedly pulled so hard on her breast she thought he would rip it off. The words he said, she claims, resonate in her head to this day:
“You handle your pain better than the others.”
Johnson says that makes her believe she wasn't the man's only alleged rape victim.
After a few days — he was in and out and even took her to a market once — Johnson says she made a run for it and escaped. She made it back to the brothers, who took her to a police station.
Police, she said, didn't believe her story. She was a homeless runaway who shoplifted. And, Johnson said, cops told her the suspect's alleged Jeckyll-and-Hyde kidnapping didn't sound like a black man's crime to them. (It was the '70s).
She eventually made her way to Louisville, Ken., married, and had children. She lives in Tallahassee and now has grandchildren.
In December a friend pointed out a Grim Sleeper article in a newspaper.
“I recognized the eyes” of Franklin immediately, Johnson said. “He looked a lot cleaner when he kidnapped me. He was clean-shaved. He looks more rugged now than when he got a hold of me. It was strictly the eyes.”
Johnson said she also took a look at some of the photos of women photographed by Franklin, who was arrested last summer after detectives claimed to have linked familial DNA from his son to evidence collected from some of the 11 victims (including one proclaimed survivor) tied to the case so far.
“When I was going through the pics there was a light-skinned girl with blond, full, long hair,” she said. “The way she wore her hair reminded me of my hair back then.”
Johnson says she's of Native American heritage but gets mistaken for African American all the time. All the victims tied to the Sleeper so far were black.
Some of the victims were prostitutes, but the Weekly has reported most were just young women out for a ride or diversion — not unlike a 15-year-old Johnson.
“We were all out there on the streets trying to survive, so nobody's going to miss us,” she said. “That's the connection between us.”
Det. Kilcoyne said suspect Franklin had been living in the same South L.A. home where he was arrested since about 1980. He said he wasn't sure where he lived before that.
No cases outside of South L.A. have been connected to the Sleeper case, but that doesn't mean it's not possible.
Similarities between Johnson's claim and Sleeper case evidence:
-Her attacker took her to an alley. Many of the Sleeper's victims were found in alleys, some in garbage bins. Suspect Franklin was once a trash collector.
-Her attacker showed her guns. The Sleeper used a .25 caliber handgun.
-Johnson said she's often mistaken for a black woman. The Sleeper's victims were African American.
-She was 15 at the time of the attack. One of the victims connected to the Sleeper case was a 14-year-old runaway named Princess Berthomieux.
-Johnson describes her attacker as friendly and personable — attributes given to suspect Franklin by neighbors following his arrest in July. One neighbor, a 19-year-old woman, says Franklin once drove her to a store and that “some things that were said were a little perverted … I just thought he was an older guy that was a little on the perverted side.” But, the teen told the Weekly, “I never was a afraid of him.”
-Johnson says she was raped “repeatedly.” Investigators believe sexual assault played a large role in the Sleeper crimes. In one case crime-scene analysts found dried saliva on one of the victim's breasts.
-Johnson says she was ultimately kidnapped outside a clothing store where she met her attacker. Police say the Sleeper nabbed more than one victim as they went to a liquor store or to buy cigarettes.
What isn't consistent about her claim:
-The Sleeper case has only been connected so far to crimes in South L.A. Hollywood hasn't figured in the case at all.
-The Sleeper's crime spree is believed to have started in 1985. Johnson says this happened in 1979.
-The Sleeper left only one known survivor, although police are investigating whether there are connections between the photos and any other possible victims.
-Though whoever killed these women ultimately held them against their wills, there has been no evidence that we're aware of indicating the suspect allegedly kept victims locked up for days.
-Police think the suspect might have kept “trophies,” possibly jewelry and photographs. Nothing from Johnson was taken.
Johnson said she's not looking for publicity. In fact, she expressed some hesitation over this story, fearing that it would hurt relationships with people who don't know she was once a runway girl.
“I don't want anything other than closure,” she said, audibly tearing up. “It's good for me to finally face my demons.”